At Saloncon I got to watch this burlesque show--I really enjoy burlesque, and it was awesome. Lots of girls of admirably different sizes, lots of great, sexy skit-type things. But it was the second year I saw this troupe, and the same thing bothered me both years. And bothers me whenever I see burlesque--though I admit it may just be the ones I see. That would be an amazing coincidence. The problem is this:
TAKE YOUR FUCKING CLOTHES OFF, GUYS.
Why is it that while women's bodies and sexuality are on cheerful display, the men in burlesque are buttoned up, often in full three piece suits? In this particular show they were even in clown face, which only reinforced the idea that men's sexuality is a joke, women's is for consumption. The gaze was so very, very male--women are beautiful and sexy and everyone wants to have sex with them, while men are icky and no one does. Now, whose sentiment is that? The straight man's--of whom there were really not that many in the audience, so why was this kinky-queer burlesque troupe playing to that All Seeing Invisible Eye?
Why, in burlesque skits, are men so often the customer, the watcher, the buyer? Why are they bumbling fools while the women are vamps and tramps and whores? Why, most importantly, do they never take their clothes off? I barely saw a tie removed--and if men do shed attire, they are usually wearing something comical beneath, boxers with big red hearts on or something, so that no one would be threatened by the Big Scary Man-Part. Newsflash--men are sexual creatures--that's why you all like seeing us stripped down to nothing, remember?--and they can be beautiful, just like we can. There are plenty of unconventionally attractive female burlesque dancers--I do not care if men are not cut or ripped (jesus, the violence in those words!) and I do not care if they are fat. I want enthusiastic sexuality, I want unashamed display, I want what men get when they see these shows. Good grief.
I'm a bisexual female, I love seeing hot women in leather, but I start to get very uncomfortable when I see a sexual dynamic in which men are at best consumers of women's bodies and at worst a stupid joke I'm meant to point and laugh at. Because it means this show is not for me. It is for men. It is for their pleasure, for the reinforcement of their kinks. Yes, the lesbian stuff is great--I adore it and am always grateful to see it...but we all know straight men love their lesbians, and it's still for them. (Which is not to even get into how often lesbian sexuality is played as cute and cuddly but not viscerally sexual the way hetero sex is.) There are no hot gay men wrangling away, there are no men shown in any kind of sexual situation beyond being pawed by female dancers. Are men such delicate hothouse flowers now that they can't show a little skin when our skin has been currency for millenia?
What the hell is going on here? If as a good third-wave feminist I'm supposed to like burlesque and displays of sexuality of all kinds, why are the only displays of sexuality I see the same old shit, performed for an invisible, imaginary Daddy Figure with Issues? It is this that keeps me from pursuing burlesque myself--and I have thought seriously about it. I do not feel right putting my body and sexual personae on display if it's not a game we all play together.
I could just be missing "the good ones." I certainly don't mean to harp on the Saloncon group, because they were great and made such an effort with the kink and the queer--which is why I don't understand their treatment of men. Goddammit, we are all sex-hungry, we are all dirty and kinky and bad little girls and boys, everyone has the potential to be both a fabulous sexual object and a powerful sexual subject, and then switch to the other without taking a breath. It is the 21st century, people. Why are we still fucking around at the gender-relations Kiddie Table?